Ministers plan to extend school day

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Three-hour lessons and longer school days are being proposed by ministers under a radical shake-up of teaching to be unveiled this week.

Three-hour lessons and longer school days are being proposed by ministers under a radical shake-up of teaching to be unveiled this week.

A confidential draft of proposals by David Miliband, the minister for schools standards, calls for "flexibility'' on the length of lessons and school days.

The idea is to give successful headteachers as much freedom as possible to run their own schools.

The move could lead to more schools copying Thomas Telford, the top-performing comprehensive in the country, which has been at the forefront of pioneering three-hour lessons and longer school days.

The school, a city technology college (CTC) with freedom to experiment with new styles of teaching, estimates that its pupils have spent an extra year in the classroom by the time they take their GCSEs. They study for up to 35 hours a week at school when approaching exams.

A typical day consists of a three-hour maths lesson in the morning, a 20-minute breakfast, then three hours of another subject in the afternoon. Pupils start at 8.30am and can continue until 5.40pm. They say they waste less time moving between classrooms.

The school's achievements, which include beating every school in the country this year with its GCSE results, have been noticed in Downing Street. Its headteacher, Sir Kevin Satchwell, was knighted last year. The school takes in equal numbers of pupils from six different ability bands, despite its CTC status.

Teachers' leaders are dubious about longer hours, saying it is difficult to concentrate or teach for such a long spell.

Britain's biggest teaching union, the National Union of Teachers, is also anxious about another proposal in the document that would give headteachers flexibility on class sizes. Union leaders say the plan, which would not affect the ban on classes of more than 30 for five- to seven-year-olds, could lead to larger class sizes, and they are refusing to sign up to the document.

The other major flashpoint is the Government's proposal to allow classroom assistants to take charge of lessons, a move the NUT has said will "turn the clock back nearly 30 years" to the days before teaching was an all-graduate profession.

However, it emerged yesterday that the NUT is likely to be isolated in its opposition.

David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the proposals were "the only ball game in town", although he conceded ministers may have trouble selling the package to teachers.

Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, which represents about 40,000 classroom assistants, backed the plan to extend their role.

He warned against introducing it "on the cheap", however. A union survey found that 80 per cent of assistants were earning less than £8,000 a year.

The proposals are due to be published on Tuesday.